A big problem in society is bullying.
It’s something I am passionate because I have been through bullying. As a kid growing up, I was bullied in primary school. It was a horrible experience. Only those who have been through bullying know how humiliating, and shameful it really feels.
I knew I should be standing up for myself, and I wanted to … but it was like I felt powerless to do so.
It was that sense of powerlessness that made me feel a lot of shame. In fact, it was an incident at high school when I was 13 when I was bullied by a group of kids which made me vow I would learn to stand up for myself, and never be bullied again.
It was one reason I become a lawyer.
And one of the things people ask me all the time as a lawyer (and when I was a church minister many moons ago) is how to handle bullying. It’s something I get asked on private Facebook message, by email, or more commonly, in day to day conversation.
So I decided I was going to share some insight both as a lawyer and from experience how to handle bullying.
I am going to give a series of 10 tips over this month on how to handle bullying.
We have bullying on so many levels, like …
And the list goes on …
We will be looking at 5 tips dealing with the following topics:
TIP 1: What do I do if I am being bullied by my boss in the workplace? Or by co-workers?
There are a number of things you can do.
If it is by co-workers, you can always go straight to your bosses or management. Getting it dealt with in-house is always the best and easiest way.
I can remember I had a really bad boss years ago when I worked in a fast food restaurant. He used to terrorize all the staff, yelling and bullying them. My mother told me how she had stood up to a bullying boss at a newspaper she had worked at, which inspired me.
Finally, trembling and very nervous, I stood up to him. He came in and yelled at me to stop slacking around and get to work. Mind you, I was one of his best workers and he knew it. I responded by saying words to the effect of “excuse me, I am not slacking around, but I’m working hard, so lay off please”. He looked somewhat startled, looked at me, and didn’t reply. I thought I’d really pissed him off. However, the next day, when leaving the shop he told all the staff to keep working hard, and put me in charge of the shop, and told the staff that anybody that disobeyed me would be in trouble!
It taught me a great lesson.
Mind you, not everybody has the courage to do that, and it doesn’t always work. Sometimes standing up for yourselves can cost you your job. (I was fully prepared for that possibility when I stood up for myself.)
Hence we have laws to protect workers from bosses who bully and treat workers badly.
Workers have protection under employment law, and the Fair Work Act, but until recently, workplace bullying was dealt with under health and safety laws, and discrimination laws.
In January 2014, the beginning of this year, the Government passed new anti-bullying laws under the Fair Work Act. These are quite broad in how they apply and give workers fantastic remedies.
They also show business owners to be very careful in how they treat their workers and gives another compliance headache to worry about.
In the next tip, we look at the new anti-bullying laws, and how they work.
TIP 2: How do the new anti-bullying laws work?
The new laws are very broad, and give you a lot of rights if you’re bullied at work. In fact, the laws are drafted so broadly that it is impossible to know exactly what kind of conduct will constitute “bullying”. Effectively it will be up to the Fair Work Tribunal to decide.
To me, it is another crazy example of laws going too far … but it’s certainly great for workers. It gives workers a lot of slack.
Let’s look at some of the basics of the laws and how they work …
So clearly, the new laws are very broad, and workers have a lot of rights. Many believe there’ll be an avalanche of claims under the Fair Work Act once people get wind of the laws.
Bullying in the workplace is very prevalent. With the greater awareness around bullying, and the fact that businesses will be nervous under the new laws, the mere mention of “bullying” to a boss or manager in the workplace is likely to send shivers down their spine, and quick action, in most cases. And in the cases that don’t, a straightforward low cost Fair Work application will do the trick.
In the next tip, we explore further your rights as a worker under the laws, and exactly what you can do under the new laws to bad bosses who bully you.
TIP 3: What rights do you have under the anti-bullying laws?
In the last tip, we looked at the anti-bullying laws coming into place this year.
What rights do workers have?
Under these laws, if you as a worker have a reasonable belief that you’re being bullied at work, you can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop your co-workers or boss from bullying you.
Before making an order, the Commission must be satisfied that:
As said in the earlier tips, the laws are drafted very broadly. It’s clear there is a lot of scope and flexibility to deem conduct to be bullying. The mere mention of the word “bullying” or “threats” will send shivers down most employers spines.
So for example, a bad performance review in itself may end up in a bullying claim if a worker felt they didn’t get adequate performance management and feedback on the job.
That said, workers should be aware that even if the Commission holds that a bullying claim is well founded, this doesn’t necessarily mean the business will be fined, or get an order against it. A business will be exempt from an order if the Commission is satisfied that reasonable management has been carried out in a reasonable manner. That is, if a business had really good grievance policies and procedures in place for dealing with bullying, including a good internal investigation process, that can be enough to defend against a bullying claim.
Even more important is good performance management, ie. ensuring workers get appropriate feedback. So if as a worker, you are not getting proper feedback on your performance from your boss, a sudden performance review that is bad can potentially give rise to a bullying claim.
One concern that may happen, however, is you as a worker get bullied and threaten to go to the Fair Work Commission, and you get fired. Suddenly there are complaints about your performance, and documents produced proving it, and you are fired.
In the next tip, we look at what you can do if you get fired after being bullied.
TIP 4: What can I do if I lose my job at work from being bullied?
In the last tip, we looked at your rights as a worker when being bullied.
Now we’re going to look more closely as to what happens if you get fired.
If you get fired, you have a lot of rights in Australia. The Fair Work Commission have shown very clearly they are more in favour with workers than the bosses. Some case examples decided by the Fair Work Commission decided in favour of a worker include:
Personally I think the law is insane, and too far the other way. Nevertheless, as a worker, understand if you are treated unfairly, you have a lot of rights.
So what should you do if you get unfairly fired, or threatened with it?
Firstly, ask for reasons if you are fired, or if you are threatened, ask for a performance review, and for detailed feedback as to what you did wrong. Once you get it in writing, reply back in writing to the company if you disagree with anything that is said.
Secondly, if you are fired unfairly, you can lodge a claim with the Fair Work Commission. It is a straightforward process. You pay a fee of $65.50. The only catch is you must lodge within the prescribed time limit, which is 21 days after 1 January 2013.
Once it goes to the Commission, you put forward your case from there.
As a personal comment, they say with great power comes great responsibility. If your boss or co-workers are treating you unfairly, then use these laws. In my business, we are very family friendly with my staff, understanding they want time with their families, and always believe in basic courtesy and respect. If a boss is not willing to do that with their workers, and respect them as people, they deserve what they get. At the same time, if you have a boss who is trying to be reasonable and simply discuss your poor performance with you to improve things, don’t use the laws to avoid dealing with the real issue, or to try and get money out of them or punish them.
In conclusion, I hope these tips have helped you understand the anti-bullying laws, and realized if you are being unfairly bullied, there are things you can do.
If you want more information about these, please contact us and one of our specialists would be glad to assist.
TIP 5: What do I do if my child is being bullied in school?
This is always awful for the child, and for the parents, they feel shame, failure and frustration.
I remember hearing a story 40 years ago about a family friend (let’s call him Joe) whose son was badly bullied one day after school. Joe got in his car with his son, found the two bullies riding their bikes, chased them until they jumped off their bikes and ran and climbed on top of a wall to get away from him, Joe drove his car over their bikes, and wound down the window and said “next time you bully my son, that will be you, you cowards”.
It was effective, as the bullying never happened again. But for reasons I’m sure you understand, it is not my recommended strategy for dealing with bullying!
The good news is, there are effective ways of dealing with bullying without doing what Joe did.
What can you do?